Any end-of-year ranking is not going to be easy work—but ranking mobile games is perhaps toughest of all. It’s very much comparing apples to Mack trucks: One app might be something of a simple toy, while the next may be a full-fledged RPG, for instance.
Still, it’s a task we here at Paste Games are willing to undertake. We’ve whittled this list down to just ten of 2015’s best. (Eleven, really. Two games came down to a tie and we just couldn’t choose between them.)
The ten best mobile games of the year—or eleven best, if you’re a stickler about stuff like math—follow, below:
10. Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector
When beloved localization studio 8-4 quietly rolled out its English-language translation of Neko Atsume, fans rejoiced—including English-speaking fans who had already been playing the Japanese game for months. A variation on ‘collector culture,’ the simple joy of hoarding cats apparently knows no language barriers. Neko Atsume never bogs itself down with unnecessary intricacies; collecting cats is enough. (Charming hand-drawn artwork certainly helps, of course.)
9. Steven Universe: Attack the Light!
Fans of the animated Steven Universe series can get a little, erm, ‘precious’ about the show, so what a relief it is that Attack the Light! makes good on an unspoken promise. Besides, Steven Universe was always fertile source material for an RPG; designing a game around these characters seems obvious. But beneath the lovely superflat art and charming writing is a smart, tight, balanced little role-playing game that in many ways transcends its source. It’s also a game that, for whatever reason, didn’t seem to get its critical due upon release. Which is almost criminal, since Attack the Light! really is one of the fullest, deepest experiences on mobile this year.
8. Ball King
There’s absolutely nothing to Ball King. Its generous free-to-play model is lifted from last year’s hit Crossy Road; games begin and end as quickly as in Flappy Bird. There is nothing about Ball King that isn’t filched wholesale, that isn’t an obvious bid at becoming this year’s instant-gratification breakout hit. But it never virally ‘caught’ like Flappy or Crossy, or Angry Birds before them—and this, too, almost seems like a mistake, because the entire package just works. Ball King is deliciously tactile, needlessly surreal, secure in its simplicity. It is a perfectly orchestrated time-sink, and it excels.
7. (Tie!) Alphabear
By all outward appearances a gentle spell-it-out word game in the mold of Bookworm, twee Alphabear bares its teeth early on. This is not an easy game, and its steep challenge-curve may frustrate some players. Some of the game’s more obtuse free-to-play gimmickry (‘hibernating’ bears? It’s clever, but man is it obnoxious) also dampen the otherwise-exquisite joy of playing. Still, it’s easy to get hooked, and the game’s cheery attitude and reassuring pastels go a long way in maintaining players’ goodwill. Alphabear’s fresh new take on “tiled word games” also forgives a lot of minor sins. It’s a new classic, for sure.
7. (Tie!) Capitals
Mash up the strategic combat of Warlords with the elegance of Letterpress, and the unholy result would be this year’s Capitals, a competitive game of word-war. Each player is guarding a “king” (well—a “capitol,” presuming the game’s title is a clever pun), and the ramparts are both built-up and destroyed by playing letter tiles. Worst of all, just one strategic play can turn Capitals on a dime, making it one of the more brutal two-player games around. We’d never toss the term ‘Scrabble-killer’ around lightly, but this might be the one.